Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Tricky Curation/Citation: Citing Strangers, Friends and Selves

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I never realized how tricky the act of curation and citation could be until I started curating the Networks keyword for the MLA book/collection on Digital Pedagogy with Mia Zamora. Although we were able to mention our crowdsourcing process and some of our thinking behind our approach, there isn’t enough space for that in the main document. So we decided that each of us would blog about it. I have a lot to say, but the main thing is:

You don’t realize the importance of your choice of each reference and item to curate until you are told you can only choose a limited number of them

I have thought before about the idea of inclusive citation and whether we can ensure we have included the views of women and scholars of color in our references. I become conscious of entire pieces of my writing that references mostly white males. Some (most?) fields are like that, dominated by white male big names. But there are often some females and non-white people who keep getting forgotten. As it is, Mia and I are already females and not exactly white and many of the people we were planning to include as creators of artifacts are women and some POCs. But there is more than just that.

As I was writing parts of the curation, I would start putting a comment in the Google doc and as I wrote the person’s firstname, Google would guess who I was talking about and try to enter their email (as if I was trying to leave a note for THEM not for Mia). It made me realize that most of the artifacts we curated are created by people we know, some of them even friends. Our crowdsourcing process, while relatively open because we published on Prof Hacker and DML (i.e. not on our personal blogs), still only widened our lens slightly. Because most people who responded were still our own friends who know similar people to us. And how we chose what to include is…value-laden. Sure, part of it is an attempt to provide diverse resources within a particular framework but we could have chosen a totally different framework. Instead of curating networks as social media, networked learning and PLNs we might have done another breakdown. Even when we looked at suggested references for networked learning vs connectivism, the resource I used most was authored by McConnell and others – and while reading it I kept nodding because…. I LITERALLY lived that approach to networked learning during my MEd in ELearning at Sheffield where McConnell was course director (or such).

The thing about citing friends is that
A. You are often up to date an intimately involved in their work. I could probably present Bonnie Stewart’s research at this point because I have read and heard her on it from different angles
B. You can go back and check you have understood them correctly. These curated keywords get open peer review and I look forward to inviting people who helped us think and people we cite to comment and help us improve

But

C. How do you make choices of whom to include and exclude?

This last one. Citing oneself and close friends may seem off. Like bad practice. But when you think about it, it’s not a huge field, and you are curating the keyword because it’s something you know well. In this networked age, it’s not uncommon for someone like me to get to know people in my field anyway, some of whom will become friends, some just acquaintancss. But few strangers. It’s not impossible to get a full list of 10 artifacts by people we don’t know. But it was quite EASY to get 10 by people we DO know, either as friends, or acquaintances. We didn’t need to read too many additional resources (though we read a few) to do this. I suspect that as scholars mature into their field of research, they read enough along the way that new projects don’t necessarily need that much additional reading. And in this networked world, you find yourself on top of developments because your network and community help keep you informed.

And yet we are probably missing something. How important is what we exclude? Probably as important as what we include.

Do we focus more on history or future? History is important, it won’t change (much) and what is current now will change soon. It’s not like blogging and writing for a place like Prof Hacker where a post is meant to have immediate value and future value is secondary. In a curated collection, is it more like a time capsule of what ppl thought of Digital Pedagogy in 2016 or is it a resource for future generations? Can it be updatable? By whom? Would new updates replace old copies or be appended? What happens to broken links and institutions that dissolve and projects that cease to exist? Should durability be a criterion for selection? Should innovation? Should difference from other artifacts?

And citing oneself is so tricky. On the one hand, Mia and I are deeply involved in Networks. Have written together on cMOOCs. Are ourselves part of network-related projects that are worthy of being artifacts. A “thing” doesn’t have less value simply because I created it. I’ll keep telling myself that. But i also realize that I know my own work more than the work of others and that maybe if I were more intimately acquainted with work of others I don’t know (and ones i may never know coz they’re either dead or not on social media or don’t write in English or something)… Maybe I would have included more of it.

I need to stop now. But my point is..these reflections? They should apply to all our scholarly work. And yet we don’t always stop to think if we have included all that needs to be included. Except maybe in systematic review articles, and even those have restrictions and assumptions (made explicit, which is good). There’s no space in every article we write to reflect explicitly on our choices of references we use. But I’m reminding myself to do it at least internally on a regular basis.

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